Mini-Review: Bento

December 2, 2007  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

I wrote in a previous post that I planned to put Bento through its paces. Today, I finally got that chance. I walked away impressed with Bento, but still wanting something more.

Our initial plan was to use Marketcircle Daylite for my wife’s law practice. We have started to implement Daylite, but aren’t so far along that we won’t switch to something else. When Bento came out, it looked like it would do everything that Daylite can do plus a few things we need that Daylite can’t do. Bento seemed like a good candidate to replace Daylite because we don’t anticipate needing the multi-user features of Daylite. The main drawback with Daylite is its apparent inability to link files to contacts and projects. Bento can do this easily with its file list data type.

Bento has its drawbacks too. To my eye, Bento’s critical failing is its lack of a record summary feature. Bento is great at creating, editing, searching, and sorting records. That’s useful, but it’s not enough. The most powerful way to use your data is to analyze and summarize the data. But, Bento’s focus is records and the ability to combine information from those records is quite limited.

For example, Bento lets me create projects and associate tasks with them. Viewing the projects list in Bento will show me all my projects, even the ones that are no longer active. Using a smart collection, I can view only the active projects. My view of the data is limited, though, to a traditional record view. I can’t, for instance, see a list of all the active projects and detail about the currently-pending task for each project. Bento also won’t show me a list of all the people I am supposed to call today, along with the reason for the call and the person’s contact information.

It’s apparent that what I need for my wife’s law practice is something more sophisticated than Bento. That “something” will probably be Filemaker Pro. The disadvantage with Filemaker Pro is that it doesn’t naturally integrate with Address Book and iCal. Like most things, that can be solved with money – by buying a set of pre-built commercial templates.

We will probably spend that money. Managing the client relationship is too important to risk messing it up by being cheap. Bento still looks like a very interesting product. It just looks too lightweight to handle the daily grind of a busy law practice.


  1. Jeff: Just an FYI to let you know that you can link files to contact and projects easily. Couple of ways. One is to drag and drop the file to be linked onto the contact or project. Another is to right click the contact or project and select “add file reference” which opens a dialog box for you to find the file to link. If the “add file reference” option is not in the menu, you can add it via preferences.

    Like you, I’m still investigating my options re case management systems as I move from Windows to Macs. I’m currently using Timematters. Clearly, TM is much more powerful than anything on the Mac side so I’m hoping Marketcircle beefs up Daylite to give the kind of functionality I’m used to.

  2. Just an FYI – Daylite can and does give you the ability to link file to a Contact and/or Project (and other objects).

    Simply drag the file or files from the finder to the contact or project (in the contact or project list) and those files will be linked.

    You can also use the menu items (Add File Reference).

    You can then view all linked files in the Activity tab (you can filter to show just those, or along with other activity in chronological order).

    If you are going to be managing cases – you will need something like DMI (Daylite’s Mail Integration) and Reverse Activity Sets (for court date preparations).

    We have quite a few lawyers using Daylite (and always requesting features ;)

    Hope that clarifies things.

  3. I have one windoze machine left because there is NO GOOD practice management program for the MAC. The day I find one, is the day I give my last windoze POS a heave from the 3rd floor! I tried DAYLITE and it did nothing more than lock up everytime I used it. I have not upgrated to 10.5 yet, so Benito is not an option for me yet.

  4. You can contact me offline and I can find out why Daylite was locking up on you if you want to give it a try again.

  5. Thanks for the tip. I don’t know how I missed that feature of DayLite.

    Regarding TimeMatters. You’re right that there is no single product that will match the functionality of TimeMatters. What I am hoping is that a combination of products will come close. It really depends on how well everything integrates.

  6. We have used FM since V1.2
    upgraded to FMP 8.5.1 a while ago when shifted to MBPro
    It is a great office management programme.
    We used Legal Billing II for about 20 years. It was a standalone programme and we had to give it a funeral because it wouldn’t run on our new Macs.

    We have now set up our own multi user FMP Time Recording package – because the ones we looked at and tried didn’t really suit a small practice – which is a great asset for us and all users can easily record attendances and memos and related processes through to billing formats to send to clients.

    When we have time we will package it up for others to use.

    With FMP, MYOB, ical and address book you have the complete office management system.

  7. John:

    Do you find iCal and Address Book sophisticated enough for your needs? It seems like there is a lot we would like to be able to do with those, but can’t.

    Are you using a package a FMP package that keeps your contacts and appointments that you synch with iCal and Address Book (and, if so, which one)? Or are they your primary programs?

  8. I see these reviews and comments all date back almost a year. Both Bento and Daylite have launched important updates since then and a really good Mac-native CRM program would be a tremendous asset to a lot of us.

    Today I run Amicus Attorney on XP via Parallels on a Mac Book Pro and everything else in OS 10.5 I’ve tried each new iteration of Daylite, but have been plagued by quirky sync issues between the Daylite database and iCal/Address Book. I’ve previewed Bento 1 and 2 as well but still find I rather have a solid reliable database on clunky old Amicus than watch those dreaded spinning beach balls in Bento or Daylite wondering where my next data corruption issue will arise.

    These are all smart people so I’m sure database management – – particularly syncing among programs – – is incredibly complex. Based on my own experience with these products neither Daylite nor Bento is really yet up to the task for mission critical information. I’d appreciate hearing further reviews and convincing reader comments to the contrary.

  9. I run a small law practice and made the switch from Windows to Macs a couple of years ago. I’m intrigued by Bento as there seems to be no reasonably priced practice management software for Mac lawyers. (I use Entourage as a case management software, QuickBooks for accounting but both are clunky & cumbersome). One question for existing Bento users – how easily can you link files to a particular project/client?

    GREAT NEWS – I recently came across a fabulous time tracking / simple invoice generating product for small law firms / solo attorneys: OfficeTime – it is hands down the best software purchase I’ve ever made (and very modestly priced at around $50). It easily runs in the background and allows very busy multi-tasking mac lawyers to easily track billable hours. It links w/ iCal, too. I’m wondering if a combination of Bento and OfficeTime might do the trick. Thoughts?

Leave a Reply